Wind Farm Study On Marine Life Impact Planned

OCEAN CITY — State and federal scientists will soon undertake a study to determine the possible impacts a field of wind turbines could have on marine life in the area.

In early July, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the auction of a vast tract of roughly 80,000 acres off the coast of Ocean City was set for mid-August. Maryland’s designated Wind Energy Area (WEA) covers roughly 94 square nautical miles with its western edge about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City and extending about 30 miles offshore. The lease auction is one of the last significant regulatory milestones for the long-awaited and discussed project.

Before a single turbine is anchored to the ocean floor, however, state and federal officials want to carefully consider the potential impacts of the massive project on marine life that inhabit Maryland’s WEA. To that end, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are preparing to conduct a new study they believe will help state and federal decision-makers better understand where whales, dolphins and porpoises migrate in the WEA off the coast of Ocean City and how they use the habitat.

Most agree offshore wind farms are the key to creating a renewable energy mix in Maryland. However, potential negative impacts on marine species could include habitat loss, collision risk and harmful effects from increased noise and electromagnetic fields.

Beginning this fall, underwater microphones will be affixed to buoys anchored to the ocean floor in the WEA to continuously record sounds produced by large whales and other marine mammals. The data will allow scientists to track the animals’ geographic distribution, abundance and densities along the coast.

The study will collect two years of base data that can be used to help determine the design of the wind farm. The information collected will also be used to determine how to minimize the impact of construction noise and environmental impacts and how to facilitate ocean planning in the area.

The acoustic monitoring devices will record both ambient and marine mammal sounds from a broad range of sources and species. Large whales tend to vocalize at low frequencies, while dolphins and porpoises produce high-frequency echolocation clicks, as well as a variety of other sounds. These species all produce sounds that are used for critical ecological functions, such as communication, navigation and finding food.